A working group within the University has officially recommended that Yale transition away from Classes*v2 to a new software called Canvas.
Last fall, 40 to 50 classes at Yale piloted Canvas, a course management platform, as a possible alternative to the aging Classes*v2 software. Administrators have in the past described Classes*v2 as “clunky” and “awkward,” and faculty and professors have expressed decreasing satisfaction with the platform over the years, according to an internal University survey. On Thursday, a working group specifically dedicated to supervising the pilot submitted a 34-page report to the University’s Learning Management System Steering Committee, in which it outlined the results of the first semester’s trial, with key findings including an overwhelming satisfaction rate and easy integration with Yale’s systems. The working group, comprised of 22 members from across the University including the Center for Teaching and Learning and the professional schools, collected information from pilot program participants and conducted a comprehensive survey at the end of the semester.
“After working with Canvas, I find Classes*v2, slow, clunky, visually unattractive and limited in what it can do,” said music professor Craig Wright, who is a member of the steering committee and chair of the Provost’s Committee on Online Education. “I have now used Canvas in two large courses and students seem to prefer it over Classes*v2 about 10 to one.”
After the Learning Management System Steering Committee reviews the recommendations, it will present them to deans and faculty across the University. Deputy Provost for Teaching and Learning Scott Strobel, chair of the committee, said the proposed transition period from Classes*v2 to Canvas is one year. During the next academic year, he said, faculty will be able to choose between both learning management systems. A final decision about the switch will be made by the end of this semester, he said.
Canvas is already used for distance and hybrid courses offered through the School of Management, School of Forestry &Environmental Studies and School of Nursing, Director of Academic IT Strategy David Hirsch said. The pilot program last fall focused in particular on how well the software would meet the needs of traditional on-campus courses that Classes*v2 is used for, he added.
Hirsch said the need to move away from Classes*v2 is becoming ever more apparent as the system begins to show its age. In particular, he said, many of the universities that were integral to the continued support and development of Classes*v2, such as Stanford, the University of Michigan and Indiana University, have transitioned to Canvas.
“Because that community support is no longer there, it’s much more expensive for Yale to have a custom service-based system,” Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Jennifer Frederick said.
Frederick highlighted Canvas’ cloud-based system as one of its greatest strengths in addition to being far more modern than Classes*v2. Similarly, Strobel said Canvas provides easy integration of plug-ins including WordPress and Piazza. The system has a smooth hierarchical structure for presenting course materials and makes it easy to include flipped classroom videos, he said.
Still, several problems have been identified with Canvas. Frederick said that unlike Classes*v2, Canvas does not include an online photo roster which teachers can use to learn student names. Additionally, Wright said the platform does not send direct messages to students via email. Instead of receiving the message’s actual content, he said, the student receives a notification that an email has been sent and then has to track it down separately in Canvas.
But Canvas’ advantages outweigh the disadvantages, he said. Canvas allows students to see at a glance what will be in play during the course and it provides efficient access to course assignments, Wright said.
“Why try to improve something that’s not very good, when there already exists a system that is better in almost every way?” Wright said.
Students interviewed also agreed that they preferred Canvas to Classes*v2. Emily Chen ’18 said Canvas is easier to navigate and provides a host of additional services, like the ability to take online quizzes, in addition to the functions found in Classes*v2. She added that professors are also able to post assignment deadlines on Canvas.
Yijiao He ’18 echoed Wright’s complaints about Classes*v2’s user-friendliness.
“Although I haven’t used either extensively in the past, I’m currently using both and I like Canvas better,” she said. “I just think Classes*v2 is chunky, slow and annoying in general.”
Over 40 universities and organizations, including Yale, contributed to the development of Sakai 10, the software behind Classes*v2.